Glenwood Springs nonprofit YouthZone helps kids become productive in their community |

Glenwood Springs nonprofit YouthZone helps kids become productive in their community

John Gardner
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
YouthZone Pal Mentor, Mark Feinsinger, and Ruperto were matched through the YouthZone Pals Mentoring Program. Pals is one of 30 programs YouthZone offers to help kids be a productive person in their community.

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” YouthZone’s slogan at the top of its website reads “Helping communities raise their kids.”

According to Robin Tolan, YouthZone’s director of development, that type of thinking is the reason for the nonprofit’s success.

“The reason we are so successful is that each kid is looked at as an individual, and we concentrate on their strengths,” Tolan said. “We develop a plan that is specific to that individual’s strengths.”

YouthZone is not a punishment for troubled teens, but instead is an education tool, for kids and parents, that is available to teach them how to be productive in their communities.

“When a kid stays in the punitive situation and remains in the court system, the only thing they look at is punishing that kid for what they’ve done,” Tolan said. “They don’t take them aside and find out what they like to do and what is going to make them feel better about themselves.”

While the average age for a YouthZone participant is 15, and 86 percent are required to go through YouthZone as part of a court sentence, 74 percent have avoided reoffending while an active client or following the end of their YouthZone program.

Some of the specific programs have higher success rates, like the Community Justice Program (Restorative Justice), which has a 92 percent success rate.

“There is nothing better than a kid walking out of restorative justice saying, ‘I am not a bad kid. I just made a mistake,'” Tolan said. “That is the whole idea, that you want them to feel good about themselves so they can go ahead and be productive citizens.”

Since 1976, YouthZone has helped more than 30,000 families in Western Colorado. It offers 35 programs in areas of prevention, intervention and advocacy, and each focuses on the strengths of each individual client.

But other factors play a part as well.

“What YouthZone does first is give each kid an assessment to determine the best route and program for that particular kid,” Tolan said. “If we see a that a kid is using drugs heavily, or abusing alcohol, we are going to get them into either a drug or alcohol education program or rehabilitation.”

But committing a crime isn’t the only way to become involved in YouthZone. With its many programs, YouthZone also offers such incentives for young people like the Pals Mentoring Program, which matches adult mentors with kids.

It’s one of YouthZone’s greatest programs, according to Tolan, but it’s also one in constant need of more volunteers.

“It really is one of the programs that really tries to help these kids before they make mistakes,” Tolan said.

Currently, YouthZone has about 40 matched pairs of mentors and kids; however there is a waiting list for kids seeking mentors. The program works on a yearly basis, where each mentor is expected to meet with their pal, once a week, for three to four hours.

The Pals program is one of the reasons that YouthZone was recently one of three finalists for the El Pomar Awards for Excellence in the youth development category in November, from the El Pomar Foundation based in Colorado Springs. While it didn’t receive the award, being a finalist received them a $7,500 grant.

This is the second time in four years that YouthZone has been a finalist for the Awards for Excellence program.

Contact John Gardner: 384-9114

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